by Carli Stevenson | December 16, 2014
NEW ALBANY, Ind. – After 12 years of a city administration that wouldn’t give them a raise, workers for the City of New Albany have reason to celebrate this holiday season. The rank-and-file members of AFSCME Local 1861 ratified a new contract by a near unanimous vote of 24-1.
“There’s hope now, I think,” said Donny Blevins, president of Local 1861. “This is just the beginning.”
The new agreement between the city and the drivers, laborers and other workers who keep New Albany’s streets, traffic signs, parks and other public areas safely maintained is a huge boost for the southern Indiana local. Workers won a 3 percent raise for 2014, retroactive to the first of the year, with a lump sum payment of back pay.
The contract included a reclassification of current positions effective Jan. 1, 2015, for efficiency and to facilitate the much-needed raises. Workers of all classifications will receive a 2-percent raise for 2015.
Local 1861 members spend their own money on the tools, safe boots and clothing necessary to do their jobs safely and effectively. The new contract increases their reimbursement for tools from $200 to $300 annually, and their clothing reimbursement from $200 to $300 annually. Workers also will get a $150 reimbursement for their work boots.
Other important victories in the contract are expanded funeral leave to include additional extended family members and prorated longevity to date of retirement.
President Blevins says morale improved since the contract ratification.
“This definitely gave the members a booster shot,” he says. “We’re still behind, thanks to inflation. The price of gas went up; the price of milk went up. But there is no comparison to what we had before.”
by Pablo Ros | December 15, 2014
Reversing a previous ruling, the National Labor Relations Board decided this week that employees may use their company email accounts to organize their fellow workers, as long as they do it on their own time.
The NLRB is an independent federal agency that protects employees’ rights to organize, and it prevents and remedies unfair labor practices.
“Once an employer gives an employee access to the company email system, then the business cannot restrict what the employee emails, so long as it is generally workplace-related and isn’t during working hours,” the NLRB ruled.
The ruling applies to private-sector workers only.
The use of email as a form of communication is very common in workplaces across the nation and “has expanded dramatically in recent years,” the NLRB stated. It now also is a legitimate tool for employees to use to help them organize their fellow employees
by David Patterson | December 11, 2014
ATHENS, Ohio – A call that came in at 4:11 a.m. to firefighters, members of AFSCME Local 3351 (Council 8), in this college town turned out to be notice of a huge blaze that would send five of them to the local hospital and into the care of their union sisters and brothers of AFSCME Local 1252 (Council 8).
Thanks to the brave work of the firefighters and police officers who responded to the fire, no one was seriously injured.
For hours, historic downtown Athens glowed orange as firefighters from six departments battled the blaze. Flames shot from roofs of buildings more than a century old. Many were storefronts at ground level with apartments housing mostly Ohio University students on the upper floors.
Firefighters worked to get to the heart of the blaze behind a large door but had to find another route.
“There were live electric wires above the buildings that were arcing because of the flames that kept us from making a direct attack on the fire,” said Curt Cline, an Athens City firefighter and Local 3351 president. “That’s when we broke through a concrete block wall to gain safe access to the fire. But by then the fire had grown out of control.”
Police officers and firefighters scrambled through the buildings alerting those in the apartments as flames blew out windows and jets of water from two ladder trucks beat them back.
Rachel Portik, a 21-year-old nursing student at Ohio University, woke to the sound of a firefighter banging on her door.
“None of our alarms were going off, but you could smell smoke,” said Portik. Some 40 students were evacuated from the apartments.
Three Athens City police officers alerted renters in the burning apartment building to get out, sometimes by kicking in the front doors of their apartments, according to Cline.
“But when they tried to escape from the third floor, the smoke was too heavy,” Cline said. “They were forced onto the roof along with a rescued student. Thankfully, a ladder truck from the nearby Plains Fire Department was used to rescue them.”
by Pablo Ros | December 11, 2014
The trend continues. In Massachusetts, voters approved a ballot initiative on Nov. 4 that guarantees paid sick leave to all workers. Trenton and Montclair, New Jersey, and Oakland, California, did the same. In Oregon, lawmakers are pushing a bill that would require employers to provide up to seven days of paid sick leave to their employees. And in Tacoma, Washington, Mayor Marilyn Strickland has come up with a proposal to guarantee three days of paid sick leave to all employees.
How many workers in our nation benefit from paid sick leave? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 61 percent of all workers in the private sector do. That’s appalling but not surprising. It’s just another consequence of the assault on unions by corporations and political extremists. Declining union membership means nearly four out of 10 private-sector workers come to work sick – or don’t get paid.
The picture is noticeably different for state and local government workers, where union membership is stronger. For decades, AFSCME helped raise workplace standards for all public service workers. Today, nine out of 10 workers in state and local government receive paid sick leave and, of those who belong to a union, it’s nearly everyone – 97 percent.
Employees shouldn’t have to risk their health to do their jobs. A healthy employee is a productive one. That attitude appears to be catching.
by David Card | December 09, 2014
After six years of organizing, and finding the courage to tell their stories in front of legislators, the community and the press, along with intense phone banking, home visiting, letter writing and frequent visits to the capitol, members of the Missouri Home Care Union overwhelmingly voted to approve their first contract with the state.
“[O]ne thing we know for sure is there would be no rights, no contract, no voice, no quality home care council, nothing if we didn’t pull together and make it happen,” said home care attendant Elizabeth Travis. “We still have work to do to get our agreement put into effect, but we are on our way and if we keep stepping up we will get there.”
The contract, which the Missouri Quality Home Care Council also voted to accept, empowers the 33,000 individuals who use Missouri Consumer Direct home care to set their attendants’ wages, rather than third-party vendors. Many of the state’s nearly 12,000 home care providers will receive a wage increase to the new hourly minimum of $8.50 and consumers have the right to lift their attendants’ wages up to $10.15 without vendor input. The new contract also provides for holiday pay, grievance procedures and a stronger support system for care providers.
The victory results in part from an exciting new model of organizing that focuses on collaboration between home care providers and consumers. It’s based on the belief that consumers understand better than anyone that improved working conditions for the people who care for them will lead to a more stable, reliable workforce. That’s something consumers need to maintain their independence.
“Without my attendant I can’t live the life I want to live,” said Kyle Auxier, a home care consumer from St. James. “We need to get our priorities straight, and this agreement gets us on the right track. I’ll definitely pay my attendants as much as I can, and I believe given the opportunity, my fellow consumers in the program feel the same way.”
by AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Laura Reyes | December 09, 2014
This excerpt is from the Huffington Post.
Pregnancy should not cost women their paychecks. But that's exactly what happened to UPS delivery driver Peggy Young when she became pregnant in 2006.
Under doctor's orders not to lift anything weighing more than 20 pounds, she asked her employer for light-duty work, an accommodation UPS is required to give under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and frequently offered to other employees with a similar need.
But UPS said no and forced her to take unpaid leave for six months, depriving her of income, benefits and health insurance at a time when she needed them the most. When she asked for an explanation for why she did not qualify for an accommodation other employees were getting, a senior manager told her she could not even enter the building. Her pregnancy was too much of a liability.
by Dave Kreisman | December 04, 2014
CHICAGO – In just five months of organizing, more than 3,500 Chicago cab drivers signed up with Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31, coming together to change the system that denies them a decent living and the due process and respect they deserve.
And now the Chicago community is taking notice. Speaking to community leaders and labor and legal experts, Cheryl Miller, a cab driver with 20 years behind the wheel, described an unjust system seemingly set up to squeeze every last dollar out of cab drivers.
“Instead of seeing us as hard-working people who play a vital role in helping to keep our amazing city great, we are treated as second-class citizens without legal, civil or social rights,” Miller said, “even to the extreme point of being treated as criminals for simply picking up and dropping off our passengers.”
In September, more than 400 drivers rallied outside the administrative court drivers must visit after receiving a ticket.
Drivers outlined several areas where the commissioner who oversees the city’s taxi industry could make concrete changes to improve the lives of the 12,000 drivers.
“We have met with the commissioner,” Miller continued. “She is aware that she has the authority to clarify rules, issue directives that common sense dictates be used in issuing citations, and set fines. She can mandate that due process applies and require courteous treatment toward drivers … (and) promote a culture of respect.”
Following their show of strength in September and several meetings with the commissioner, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, in a joint release with Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31, announced the Taxi Driver Fairness Ordinance of 2014. The ordinance focuses on several key areas drivers highlighted that inflict an unbearable burden on their small businesses and families.
As they gather community support, the drivers are eagerly waiting to hear when the ordinance will be taken up by the City Council.
by Pablo Ros | December 02, 2014
We’ve seen what happens when prison jobs are outsourced to private corporations. The for-profit model at correctional facilities often leads to high taxpayer costs, low officer pay, abuse of inmates and less safety for officers on the job.
For many of the same reasons, the for-profit model fails to measure up for inmate treatment and rehabilitation. This developing area includes supervision of inmates in psychiatric care facilities, correctional health care and community corrections. More and more, for-profit corporations are taking over the treatment and rehabilitation of inmates, with devastating consequences for individuals and communities, according to a new report.
“Treatment Industrial Complex,” the report title, refers to the movement of for-profit companies into these new markets, which is partly a reaction to declining prison populations, thanks to sentencing reform efforts. As the report points out, the for-profit motive is essentially at odds with the treatment and rehabilitation of criminal offenders.
“Private prison corporations are financially dependent on the growth of prison populations, providing a perverse incentive not to rehabilitate,” the report states.
Moreover, most for-profit prison corporations, including Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group, Inc., have disturbing records when it comes to safety, operating costs and the quality of the services they provide.
“Across the country, evidence has surfaced that these companies cut corners on staff pay and training and services to prisoners in order to make a profit,” according to the report, available here in its entirety. It was prepared by American Friends Service Committee, Grassroots Leadership and Southern Center for Human Rights.
AFSCME, which represents 85,000 corrections officers and employees throughout the country, urges states and local communities to maintain safe and reliable prison facilities with well-trained public safety and corrections officers. Outsourcing these important services is a bad idea.
by Diane S. Williams | December 02, 2014
NEW YORK – A doctor who successfully recovered from the Ebola virus last month can thank a team of dedicated public health care workers who volunteered to care for him.
Also crucial to battling deadly diseases like the one that afflicted Dr. Craig Spencer: a coalition of unions – including DC 37 – advocating for patients and the health care workers of Bellevue Hospital, where he was treated.
New York City was ready to deal with the virus. As the first Ebola case made headlines, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration began training an elite corps of Bellevue Hospital health care workers in the Ebola protocol established by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Police and emergency workers at Bellevue in AFSCME Locals 371, 420 and 1549 were trained to assess and isolate anyone suspected of having the disease. Medical legal investigators in Local 768 and morgue technicians in Local 420 got training in handling and transporting Ebola victims.
Dispatched by Police 911 operators in Local 1549, a special team of DC 37 EMTs in Local 2507 and their supervisors in Local 3621 transported Spencer in an FDNY Haztac truck to Bellevue, one of six hospitals in the state designated to diagnose and treat possible Ebola patients.
The Ebola team rushed Spencer to an isolation ward. Meanwhile, EMTs and their supervisors decontaminated the emergency vehicles used to transport Spencer, as they would any suspected Ebola patients. Following CDC protocol, chemists from Local 375 analyzed the patient’s specimens daily and sent them to CDC.
Unions representing Ebola first responders met with hospital management, police and fire departments, state and city health officials, and city commissioners to establish a preparedness plan and ensure that workers got updated training and protective gear.
Diane S. Williams is Associate Editor of Public Employee Press, a publication of AFSCME District Council 37. Click here for the full version of the article.
by Michael Bookman | December 02, 2014
PLANTSVILLE, Conn. – Newtown Police Department officers dispatched to Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, were honored for their courageous response at this year’s Courage of Connecticut Law Enforcement Dinner, held just shy of the two-year anniversary of the murder of 20 school children, a horrific event that touched millions of Americans.
With more than 200 fellow police officers in attendance, the 13 Newtown officers were honored with the Courage of Connecticut Law Enforcement award. The quick response of the Newtown officers prevented even more tragedy. The gunman killed himself immediately after police arrived, with more than 180 rounds of ammunition remaining.
Presenting the award to the Newtown officers was Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy. (Standing alongside and with the Newtown police, it was Governor Malloy who broke the news to the families of the victims on that awful day.)
“When events like Sandy Hook occur, people often look for answers, an explanation of how it could have happened,” said Governor Malloy. “But the sad truth is, there are no answers; no good ones, anyway…. Looking back on that tragic day, we can focus on what is important right now, which is the courage and steadfastness demonstrated by the members of the Newtown Police Department, whose aggressive response to the scene of the shooting undoubtedly saved lives that day.”
The honorees are: Patrolmen Will Chapman, William Hull, Mike McGowan, Liam Seabrook and Scott Smith; School Resource Officers Lenny Pena and Jason Flynn; Detectives Jason Frank, Joe Joudy and Dan McAnaspie; Sergeants Aaron Bahamonde and Dave Kullgren; and Lieutenant Chris Vanghele.
Patrolman Scott Ruszczyk, president of Newtown Police Union Local 3153, AFSCME Council 15, praised the swift actions of the police department on the day of the shooting and credited the union for the role it assumed after the event.
“In the face of an unspeakable tragedy, these officers displayed tremendous courage and fortitude,” he said. “Were it not for the quick response, the tragedy that was Newtown could have been far, far worse. The Newtown Police Department is proud to receive these honors. AFSCME Council 15 was a tremendous source of help and guidance in the days, weeks and months after the shooting.”